Shades of Navy: a weekend in the life of a military couple

By Alexandra Blazevich

Day One

Permission to go ashore.

Permission granted.

After driving 11 hours to Pensacola, Fla. and waiting two hours in the Naval Air Station’s Welcome and Visitors Center, where the office needed to see my license, registration and conduct a background check, those two words made my heart sing.

This was real.

It was happening.

John Bradford was free.

Free for the next six hours of liberty, that was. We would go through a similar process to bring him back that night.

Day Two

After sleeping through my 4:45 and 5 a.m. alarms, my 5:15 alarm woke me up to a dark and lonely room. The drool on the side of my cheek didn’t even have time to dry before I got up and walked to the bathroom. The sandy floor of the hotel room stuck to my feet as I made my way.

I doused my face in cold water to wake myself up. It did nothing to help the fact that it was only five hours since getting back from dropping my boyfriend off at the base the night before. My eyes were bloodshot and tired from the previous day. I got dressed and made myself look as nice as I could for how early it was, and then walked down to my car in the garage below the hotel.

When I rolled up to the gate 30 minutes later, the sun was just coming up. I turned off the music I had blasting to keep me awake and took out my driver’s license. I made sure my hard-earned visitor’s pass was visible on the dashboard and dimmed my headlights.

“Goooooood morning!” the man said, signaling me to drive forward.

Men and women on base aren’t allowed to have caffeine while working, so I was not expecting such an excited greeting at 6 a.m.

“Good morning,” I said a little less enthusiastically.

“What are you doing here so early?” he asked while he verified my license.

“I’m here to pick up my boyfriend,” I said, to justify.

“Man, he better buy you a good breakfast,” he responded.

Too bad I had already bought him donuts and a chai latte –his favorites.

“That’s a little backwards, isn’t it?” he said.

“Yeah,” I said, laughing. “It is.”

He signaled me to drive through the gate and told me to have a good day. It was the first full day I got to spend with John in months, so I knew it would be.

John and I started dating two months before he knew he’d be leaving for boot camp. We certainly didn’t make the decision on a whim – we even wrote out a pros and cons list to reference. We knew we wouldn’t be able to see each other often as a long-distance military couple. If I want to see him, I have to travel to wherever he is. He won’t be able to take leave until summer 2017, almost a year after the start of our relationship.

For every month of service, military members earn two and a half days of leave, which begins adding up in boot camp. Leave is great, but it can’t make up for the weekends, birthdays, anniversaries, and small victories they miss while they’re gone –one of the sacrifices of a military relationship.

As I drove onto base, my heart began beating out of my chest. The day I had been waiting for since January was finally here. I got to see him for a whole 16 hours that day – more than I’d seen him, in total, on my last visit for his boot camp graduation.

After parking in the visitor lot, I made my way to the barracks he had shown me the day before. I stuck out even more than I thought I would in my jean shorts, tank top and UNC hat. Everyone else around me looked the same – from their uniforms to their glasses and haircuts.

When I opened the door to the barracks, I gave a polite smile and said a “good morning” to the man on duty, who John told me was named Dafun. On base, everyone goes by their last name. It wasn’t until I asked John his roommates’ first names that he realized he didn’t know them. John told me Dafun was taking his place while he was on weekend liberty. On our way out, John saluted him and I gave the biggest smile I could to thank him for his service.

We drove to a restaurant while John ate his donuts, where he did, in fact, buy me breakfast.

After breakfast we drove to the beach, where I planned to lay out all day and catch up on sleep, but John had other plans. Within five minutes of setting out his towel, he was running toward the water for a swim in the numbingly cold water, dog tags swinging to and fro around his neck.

“I hope he’s a good swimmer,” said a woman who was there with her family.

He was the only one in the water.

“He’s actually training to be an air rescue swimmer with the Navy,” I told her proudly.

“I guess he has to get used to this somehow,” she said.

My mind flashed back to when John and I watched the movie, “The Guardian” before he left for boot camp. The main character’s job was the same as John’s: an air rescue swimmer in the U.S. Navy.

When he came out of the water twenty minutes later, the woman thanked him for his service–something he said he hears whenever he’s around civilians.

Later that day at a beach bar, a man noticed my hat.

“You’ve got the wrong blue,” he said.

My boyfriend, another Duke fan, got a kick out of that.

It was like being home again before John had left for boot camp. Just like a regular afternoon out with him in Durham or Chapel Hill. I didn’t want it to end.

Day Three

On the last night, I drove John back to base for the third and final time of the trip. We sat in the car in silence. I drove with one hand on the steering wheel and the other hand in his. It was 11:30 p.m., and he had to wake up at 4 a.m. At one point I looked over and realized he was asleep.

Right before midnight, I dropped him off at the barracks. We hugged and he said a simple, “See ya.” Then he walked up the stairs to his room where I wasn’t allowed to follow.

When I would see him again? In a month? Just a few weeks? I had no idea.

As I walked back to my car, it felt like part of me was suddenly missing. My phone buzzed, and I opened the message from John after passing through the gates I got to know so well over the weekend.

“I love you,” the text read.

He apologized for not being able to kiss me one more time. No public displays of affection are allowed on base.

It wasn’t until then that I started crying.


Edited by Paige Connelly

NC state mandate threatens high school arts and specialty classes

By Colleen Brown

The bell shrieked, releasing a rush of students from classrooms. I pressed myself against one wall, trying not to get in the way of the stampede.

The students at William G. Enloe High School seemed smaller than I remembered them being, or maybe I just grew in the two years since I walked the halls. They darted around one another, chatting or staring down at phones as they passed teachers.

The teachers stuck on hall patrol looked out over the crowd of bobbing heads with faraway expressions. They didn’t bother asking students to put their phones away and students paid them no attention whatsoever.

A two-minute warning sounded and like water leaking down a drain, the teenagers found places to be that weren’t the hallway. A few stragglers slipped into classrooms just as the final bell rang.

The hallway echoed emptily as I walked down the worn tan and green tile, grown dull and scratched in months since its last buffing. It smelled vaguely old, a given in a building that was built in the 60s.

A mural painting of a galaxy wrapped around the door and lockers outside my old astronomy classroom. Reds and pinks, navy and touches of black covered the institutional white cinder blocks. A large greyish-white moon and small white stars twinkled on top of the riot of color.

A student walked by holding a tripod and a staff topped with the golden head of Ra, the Egyptian sun god.

Another mural graced the walkway outside the cafeteria. Photo-realistic fruits, each as tall as a person, overlapped each other. A sign by the mural said “Enloe Beautification in Progress,” a warning for students not to vandalize the new piece. Someone had crossed out the word “Enloe” and written “Enloe sucks 3/20/2017”.

I laughed. That’s about what I expected.

Arts in trouble

This past November, Republican Senate leaders in the North Carolina General Assembly created a mandate, hidden in the state budget, that will lower class sizes in Kindergarten through third grade to a maximum of 18 students per teacher. Although lower class sizes are better for learning, this mandate came with a problem: extra money was not provided to pay for the hiring of new teachers.

I spoke over the phone with Mary Casey, the K-12 Director of Arts Education at Durham Public Schools, to help me better understand how this mandate will affect students and teachers.

According to Casey, the response from school districts statewide was virtually unanimous: the only way to pay for smaller class sizes without increased funding is to cut arts, physical education and specialist classes.

The mandate might not affect just elementary schools. Each district has discretion in figuring out how to pay for teachers. According to Casey, some might just cut elementary specialists. Other districts might spread the cuts across elementary, middle and high schools in order to keep a few teachers at each level.

This means no art, band, dance or music for students. No gym, orchestra or other specialties like newspaper and audiovisual classes. But more than that, the state is taking away teachers’ livelihoods, their incomes and careers.

“A lot of people are saying they’ll make the students a pawn in this,” Casey said. “We believe in a well-rounded student, which includes specialists, in support of classroom teachers. Engagement and self-expression in the arts and PE are part of a child’s growth. It’s a huge part of how they develop, through movement and song and artwork.”

Casey has 175 art teachers under her, one of whom is my mother. It’s unlikely any of them will have a job this upcoming school year.


Enloe GT/IB Center for the Humanities, Sciences and the Arts is one of the most challenging high schools in the state, ranked seventh in NC by The Washington Post in 2016. A school like Enloe is built off enticing talented students into a poorer, underachieving region of Wake County like southeast Raleigh through advanced classes in the humanities, sciences and arts. Take away those classes, and you take away the success. I spent four years here, growing and learning as a person. I likely wouldn’t have gotten in to UNC-Chapel Hill if not for Enloe.

Physical Education: Womble

I met with Andrew Womble, one of the best soccer coaches I ever played for, during his weightlifting class.

Womble looked the same, rocking athletic gear and a crew cut, with the body of a former athlete who’s still, mostly, keeping up with it after seven years teaching at Enloe. He lives in Sanford. The pay to work in Wake County makes up for the hour-long commute, but it’s nothing compared to what he made working in Texas.

Womble commanded the room of teenage boys with absolute respect and a booming Southern accent, putting them through their warm-up paces on the heavy, old-fashioned weight racks. The bars creaked and groaned as we spoke. The boys were doing squat clean and jerks, throwing the weight bar above their heads before letting it slam to the rubber mats. It smelled awful, a caustic mix of sweat and metal, exacerbated by poor air conditioning.

“It’s… tough, and to be honest, I’m looking for a way out,” Womble said as he went over the students’ numbers from their max-out day. “There’s not been any money invested in athletics. I think the drive’s starting to get to me more and more a little every year. I only get $2,400 for coaching. Pennies on the hour. It’s just not worth it.”

The workout broke down toward the end of class. Boys started doing their favorite exercises. Some lifted dumbbells. Others did chin-ups. Nirvana played over the speakers, which had some of the guys rocking air guitars in front of the wall-to-wall mirrors.

When I asked to take photos, one boy ripped off his shirt and started flexing. Womble barked at him to put his shirt back on because, “No one wants to see that.” The class laughed, giving the boy a hard time for trying to show off in front of a college girl.

I explained the predicament the NC legislature had placed schools, almost shouting to be heard over the music and weights. Womble just shook his head slowly.

“If I wasn’t an athlete, I wouldn’t have gone to college,” Womble said. “I hated school, only liked sports. They teach leadership, work ethics, motivational stuff, this is stuff kids carry their lives. I couldn’t picture myself as a five-year-old not being able to play. There’s a bunch of kids that are going to be left behind.”

Studio Art: Klenow

The classroom was light, airy and absolutely packed with art. Art on the walls, the tables, the windows. Drawings of pineapple and buildings in correct aspect ratio hung on the wall next to a mobile of small, grasping hands bunched together. There were watercolors, pastel sketches and mixed media lining the hallway outside the classroom, shepherding you into an explosion of color and chaos.

The countertop lining the back wall was splashed with dried paint, supporting wooden easels, newspaper clippings and stray bits of paper. On the back wall, the words “Line, Space, Shape, Value, Color and Texture” were printed. “ABC: Always Be Creating” adorned another wall.

Ten students, mostly girls, stay in the class during Mrs. Klenow’s planning period for lunch. They were dressed in artsy clothing, with Chuck Taylors and shirts advertising bands I’ve never heard of. They’ve created their own little hideout here in the art room.

Trish Klenow is a middle-aged woman of medium height, with light hair highlighted an artsy reddish color. She spoke and moved quickly, with motions that made her seem younger somehow, quirky in her capris and comfortable shoes. She wore dangly silver earrings and a silvery watch, paired with a key-shaped necklace.

“I knew from a young age that art was my passion, that this is what I wanted to do,” Klenow said in-between bites of low-fat Greek yogurt.

She told me about working near the Texas-Mexico border. “There was razor wire, fires, fights breaking out all the time,” she said. “But my budget there was twice what it is here. My salary was better. I won an award, Most Outstanding Art Educator, High School Division, for all of Texas.” Klenow gestured to the plaque on the wall above her desk with a plastic spoon.

Klenow has been voraciously keeping up with news about the mandate.

“I am such an advocate for art education,” she said. “It teaches critical thinking and creativity. To take it away, you are handicapping one of our strengths. I’m afraid, for students, for myself, for my colleagues.”

Klenow looked around her classroom, surveying the students working on projects. One girl painted a watercolor with rapid, small motions, spreading blues and purples. Others gathered in the center of the room, talking politics away from the insanity of the overcrowded cafeteria.

“I love my nerds here, they’re so dedicated,” Klenow said. “I’ve had children tell me that the only reason they come to school is for art. It’s not just fun art therapy. I have students who’ve gotten prize money, great scholarships they need for college. It’s just not fair.”

One of the students, senior Ken Wear, was packing his sculpture into a shipping box headed for the Parsons School of Design and a two-year tour of the United States.

Wear is small and unassuming, with glasses and short, stubbly hair mostly covered by a black beanie. He wore a dark hoodie with what I thought was a Tardis on the back.

His piece that’s going on tour, Sucellus, is a hand-sculpted clay mask with leaves coming out of the back of the head. Small black beetles crawl over the face into empty eye sockets.

Wear is still deciding on which college to attend. He received a $54,000 scholarship to the Art Institute of Chicago, but is waiting to hear back from the Maryland Institute College of Art to see if he wins their full scholarship.

“I can’t pay $150,000, so I’ll go to the one that gives me more money,” Wear said, half-joking. “I’m trying not to be in debt for the rest of my life.”

Wear isn’t sure what he’ll do in the future, whether it be gallery work or teaching, but is sure either school will offer great opportunities.

Before leaving for his next class, Wear turned to me with no prompting and said: “Art is the only thing I can really lose myself in. I don’t know what I’d do if they took it away.”

Edited by Luke Bollinger

The college-budget travel guide to St. Augustine, FL

By Kenzie Cook

Alligators crossing the streets in every direction. Horrible drivers filling the interstate. Hordes of old people crowding the beaches. These are all stereotypes – and possible truths – my friends and coworkers have offered up about Florida; however, the only way to experience the true grandeur of Florida is to take the long drive down to it. Florida is a large area of land; it takes eight-and-a-half hours to drive from the northernmost city to the southernmost city. Most travelers from other states would probably opt for a flight from their state to Florida, but the drive is a much more scenic option. Traveling from the middle of North Carolina to the middle of Florida, you would see the beauty of four different states in one trip. While this would add to your travel time, if you stop in the right states for gas, it would be a much cheaper option.

This spring break, my friend Anna Ranson and I made the 8-hour drive from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to St. Augustine, Florida, as well as side trips to Jacksonville, Merritt Island and Blue Spring State Park. Though the stereotype about horrible drivers proved to be true, we could not find proof of the other stereotypes while we were there; but we did manage to see the natural beauty and history of Florida on our four-day excursion.

Before making the trip to a different state such as Florida, travelers should make lodging and daily activity plans or they might find themselves with nowhere to sleep and nothing to do. Many hotels in Florida fill up months in advance, and certain activities are only available during certain months or times of the day.


Weeks before spring break hit, Anna and I visited all of the travel websites we could find for lodging recommendations near our main destination, St. Augustine. Anna managed to find an affordable hotel with decent ratings that was located right on St. Johns River in Palatka, less than an hour’s drive from St. Augustine. Unfortunately, we soon found the phrase, “You can’t believe that everything you see on the internet is true,” to be entirely accurate. Our experience at this particular hotel ended quickly when we heard the neighbors screaming, arguing and possibly beating each other up. Thankfully, a much nicer hotel in the same chain – this time located in Elkton – allowed us to switch our reservation to their location at a discounted rate. The receptionist, Marianne Horner, was incredibly helpful and even gave us insight into more activities to do in St. Augustine. If travelers are in need of a simple and clean hotel near St. Augustine that will not hurt their budget, I recommend the Quality Inn in Elkton.


On our initial trip down to Florida, our first stop for food was in Jacksonville at a restaurant called The Southern Grill. Accurately named, The Southern Grill serves food you would expect to eat at any southern barbecue in large portions. I ordered the Buffalo wings and received far too many for one person to eat, but they were delectable. They were worth the $11 I paid for them. Anna ordered the bacon cheeseburger and received a burger the size of the dinner plate they served it on. In her opinion, it definitely measured up to the $12 she paid for it. Neither of us managed to finish either of our meals, but we left the restaurant full of great food.

Later that night in Palatka, our experience at the hotel had rattled us and we were in search of something familiar, so we stopped at Zaxby’s. We ordered a chicken Caesar salad to share and a birthday cake milkshake for each of us. While I thought the salad was amazing, Anna could not stop raving about the milkshake. The entire meal cost around $15 and was worth the price. In addition, the young woman working at the register was very kind to us and delivered the food to our table promptly.

Our first full day in Florida was full of driving and museum and historical site visits; so we forgot to eat lunch but made up for it by stopping at Denny’s in Port Orange. We both ordered a “Build Your Own Grand Slam” meal with various breakfast items – Anna’s with coffee and mine with apple juice. Florida was the fourth state I had been to a Denny’s in and this experience was far greater than any prior visit was. Each meal cost around $10 and filled us up enough to make it back to our new hotel in Elkton to settle in for the night.

The next day after another full day of exploring, we did not eat until dinnertime. As our final meal in Florida before we headed home the next morning, we decided to eat in one of the small restaurants located in the historical section of St. Augustine. The restaurant we went to was a tiny Italian place called Nonna’s Trattoria, located on one of the smaller streets of the city only accessible by walking. Though the outside of the building looked very simple and blended in with the rest of Historic St. Augustine’s streets, the inside was elegant and inviting. Anna ordered chicken Alfredo and paid around $14 and said the taste and amount was well worth the cost. I ordered lasagna and paid $16 and agreed wholeheartedly.

Overall, our entire experience with food in Florida was well worth the price and travel. Florida also has many other options for restaurants that are exclusively in Florida; but as a picky eater, I could not bring myself to eat at most of them. If any travelers are making the trip down to Florida, I urge them to try anything new that their taste buds can handle.


The first large city we reached in Florida was Jacksonville. We visited the Museum of Science and History, or the MOSH. Our roommate at UNC, Danielle Bruce, is originally from Florida, and recommended the museum to us because it’s often overlooked. The entry fee for students is $10, and that day it included a free show in the planetarium. The planetarium show itself was worth the $10 I paid. We got a glimpse of what the night sky would look like without pollution and learned about the different star and constellation names. The rest of the museum had exhibits ranging from the history of the film industry in the United States to different sea creatures and their noises. We spent time in the interactive area, testing our brain skills and knowledge of different types of energy. Overall, it was an interesting experience and was worth more than what we paid. I highly recommend it to any Florida visitors.

We spent our second day in museums as well. The first place we visited was the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, which was the main reason for our long trip. Christopher Cook, a Florida native, recommended a visit. Again, the entry fee was $10 a person; but if a tourist does not wish to pay, the fort is exciting from the outside as well. We visited on a rainy day, so not many people were around, but normally the fort is full of tourists. The Castillo de San Marcos is a fort that the Spanish built during conquests in the New World while Florida was part of the Spanish Empire. Its sole purpose was to defend the Spanish from attacks from the English and other Europeans trying to take Florida. The fort still has cannons on top, and visitors may view them up close. Visitors can also go inside the rooms of the fort, including sleeping quarters, the chapel and a room dedicated to art.

Next on our trip was a visit to the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island. It was roughly an hour drive from St. Augustine. Parking was $10, and the entry fee was $50, but the money spent was well worth it. The Kennedy Space Center is an active NASA field center, but it also has many exhibits for tourists to learn about space travel up close without actually going into space. Visitors have the chance to meet real astronauts, see the Apollo 8 rocket and Space Shuttle Atlantis and even participate in simulations of space flight. All of this and more is included in the entry fee. Though this was the most money I had spent in any of the places we had visited in Florida so far, I was impressed, and I would love to go back. Anna said this was her favorite part of the entire trip, even though it was the most expensive.

The next day, we were mostly in Blue Spring State Park, a wildlife reserve near Orlando. The park brings visitors in with their large amounts of wildlife, namely the manatees. They offer boat rides that take you around the park to see various species of birds, reptiles and the manatees. We each paid $24 to try it. Unfortunately, it was too cold for the manatees to be out, but we did manage to see several birds, turtles and alligators. Although I did enjoy the boat ride regardless, I would suggest that visitors come on warmer days so they could get the chance to see the manatees.

For the rest of the day, we returned to Historic St. Augustine and walked around exploring the city. The buildings still matched the original Spanish architecture, and the majority of the city required that we travel by foot. We walked across the Bridge of Lions and took selfies with the large stone lions guarding it and then walked around to see all of the little shops and restaurants. The only money we had left to spend was for dinner, so it was a cheap excursion.


If a visitor wants to travel to Florida, they should be prepared to spend a decent amount of money. From my experience and the experiences of others I have talked to, the money spent will be worth it. Most people visit Florida for the beaches or amusement parks, but several Florida natives and residents recommend the museums and wildlife reserves for a taste of Floridian history and culture.

Edited by Samantha Miner

Labor, learning and what lies ahead for work colleges

By Blake Richardson

Maja Olsson finds her cubby in the storage shed and puts on the red and black garden gloves she uses every day at work.

The junior English major walks outside with the rest of the crew, finds a spot at a table and gets to work with the blue Appalachian Mountains stenciled into the horizon behind her.

She is salvaging and sorting everything she can from the trash to recycle. She separates plastic, aluminum, paper, trash and glass items. She sorts stretchy plastic like bubble wrap; teracycle, which includes cellophane from cigarette boxes and energy bar wrappers; reusable items and compost. There’s even a pile for the pizza boxes that are too greasy to get recycled with the rest of the cardboard.

When she’s not sorting, she’s monitoring the compost, which is stored in giant blue containers under the roof of a shed. She climbs a muddy stepladder to take the temperature — it’s well over 100 degrees.

It’s decomposing, but she sometimes wonders if the compost is alive.

Olsson is paid minimum wage for her role in helping her college campus function. Her recycling crew is one of over 100 work crews that perform campus tasks at Warren Wilson College outside of Asheville.

Warren Wilson is one of seven work colleges in the U.S. The colleges have students participate in academics, service and work in order to teach the value of hard work and service while reducing college debt. At three of the colleges, qualified students can attend for free.

Warren Wilson is not one of those three. The 10 to 20 hours of work each week pays $7.25 an hour — hardly enough to foot the $33,970 tuition bill.

According to a 2016 report by CollegeBoard, national tuition rates are rising faster than financial aid and families’ college budgets are. For some work colleges, this change has heightened their school’s importance. But at Warren Wilson, rising tuition threatens the very nature of the school.

Setting the schools apart

As Olsson is leaving the preschool, a woman stops her. She wants to thank the recycling crew for their work, so she offers them a gift.

Olsson walks away with a white plastic container of homemade pimento cheese. It’s just one of several times she’s returned to her suite with food after work. But she has brought home more than just food. She has a collection of shirts and even a coat from the free store, where the recycling crew assembles goods like clothes, books and shoes that were thrown away.

Niels Wilson, a junior whose current work entails cleaning the science buildings on campus and serving as a teaching assistant, has similar stories. A few days ago, he got a free bike after reorganizing the room that the bike was stored in.

“I like how it’s been just really interesting jobs that I’ve had so far,” Wilson said.

Crews clean the dorms, do repairs, work in the dining halls, grow plants in the campus greenhouse and care for farm animals. There’s even a crew that studies herbs and can brew tea to cure your worst headache.

“We like to say that our colleges wouldn’t operate if our students didn’t show up,” said Robin Taffler, executive director of the Work Colleges Consortium.

Wilson met some of his best friends —including Olsson — through the work program.

Olsson likes that she runs into friends wherever she goes. When her mom visits her at school, friends run the guesthouse she stays in. Friends work in the library, make food in the dining hall and do repairs in the dorms.

The sense of community that Olsson, Wilson and Taffler all praised as a benefit of work colleges translates into a personal responsibility that guides students’ actions every day.

“You’re not going to trash things,” Olsson said. “Because you know it’s students, you know who’s going to have to clean it up for you.”

Valorie Coleman is the public relations director for College of the Ozarks, another work college. She said the students — including the eight who work in her office — set the school apart.

“Our students are the most hard-working, amazing students,” Coleman said. “They’re disciplined, they’re learning. … They’re graduating with work skills.”

Taffler said even after graduation, students maintain this attitude. She has noticed more students at work colleges graduate with a desire to serve the public good. And according to the Work College Consortium, students who graduate from work colleges are more likely to engage in community service post-graduation.

The sense of responsibility persists beyond the campus border.

Obstacles for the ‘outlier’ 

While this sense of community at work colleges is an added benefit, it is not the primary goal.

“A lot of the schools came into being to help underserved populations have a way to go to college,” Taffler said.

Three of those schools have stayed true to that goal — Alice Lloyd College, Berea College and College of the Ozarks. Because of the work program and other funds, every student at those colleges attends for free.

Taffler said most students at these colleges are the first in their family to receive a college education. The students come from low-income families and otherwise wouldn’t have been able to attend college — especially not today. According to a Goldman Sachs report, college tuition prices are so high that degrees from schools ranking in the bottom 25 percent are not worth the money.

Rising tuition poses a new obstacle in Warren Wilson’s ability to stay true to the mission. Now, students are better off not participating in the work program at all if they want to save money.

Wilson and Olsson agreed that this significantly discourages students from continuing in the work program.

“It is cheaper to not be in the work program and live off campus,” Olsson said. “In some ways it’s frustrating because you’re paying to do this.”

The federal regulations determining what qualifies as a work college were made law in 1992. Before then, work colleges had mild contact with each other, Taffler said. But now, the schools’ relationships have grown; they do research together and even hold annual conference with some students from each college in the fall.

The collaboration emphasizes Warren Wilson’s differences.

For Warren Wilson, the work program has evolved to focusing on owning up to privilege. Olsson said participating in the work program is about appreciating the blessing of an education and putting in the work to earn it. But at other work colleges, the work program is the foundation of the school’s existence.

This is why Taffler calls Warren Wilson an “outlier” from the other work colleges.

“Students go to Berea College because they want an education,” Taffler said. “And the only way they’re going to get it is if they work.”

Sticking to the mission

College of the Ozarks never strayed from the mission.

“I’ve really never been at an institution that understood mission and vision as well as C of O,” said Valorie Coleman, the college’s public relations director. “That drives everything we do.”

Coleman has no doubt that the college will continue to uphold its tradition of affordable education. The school covers costs through the work program, scholarships, donations and a $460 million endowment.

“That has been ingrained in how we organized the institution and run the institution for its entire history,” she said.

Berea, which was founded in 1855 as the first interracial college in the South, has also been able to uphold its goals despite rising tuition.

The college funds its students’ tuition through the work program, scholarships such as Pell Grants, the school’s endowment and an additional $4.5 million in donations each year, said Tim Jordan, media and news manager for Berea.

Berea has always been selective, and rising tuition has only made the applicant pool grow, Taffler said.

Coleman echoed that change. She said College of the Ozarks has grown from 1,452 last year to 1,512 this year with additional housing.

“If there were no limit to the number of students we could accommodate, we’d probably have 20,000,” Coleman said.

Coleman said she regularly receives calls from other schools seeking advice on how to implement aspects of the work program into their college, and several schools are in the process of becoming federally recognized work colleges.

Warren Wilson has already changed substantially. And in many ways, the changes have been positive. The college started as the Asheville Farm School to educate boys in the Appalachian Mountains. Since then, Warren Wilson has become a four-year college with a master’s program in creative writing. Eighty percent of the students are not from North Carolina, and 62 percent are women.

But as the school moves forward into the future, a gray area looms: How will the college stay true to the goal of affordability that was integral to its founding?

An uncertain future

“It’s amazing how something so simple can taste so good,” Olsson says as she eats bread and cheese at her favorite spot by the river on Warren Wilson’s campus.

It’s hard to be unhappy at a place with giant grassy hills perfect for winter sledding, forests with salamanders you can study in science class and baby cows and pigs that enter the world in campus stables each year.

The uniqueness of Warren Wilson is evident when you first step on campus. The emphasis on sustainability, sense of community and heightened work ethic in the student body sets the school apart from other colleges.

But is that enough?

Coleman is confident in College of the Ozarks’ future because the school’s president is dedicated to maintaining the school’s traditions. He recently assigned each of the vice presidents to focus on upholding one of the school’s five goals: academic, vocational, Christian, cultural and patriotic.

“He made sure that that legacy was safeguarded,” she said.

Warren Wilson’s future is more uncertain. It entails reaching a balance between making adjustments necessary to the school’s survival and staying true to the tradition that brought them here.

Change the mission? Or change the school?

Edited by Ryan Wilusz 

A whole new world: what it’s like to be a real-life princess

By Alexandra Blazevich

Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess. Cassidy Tompkins
Cassidy Tompkins poses as Ariel from The Little Mermaid at Walt Disney World. Tompkins auditioned 12 times before she was cast as a princess.

Three hundred people. One room. I was out of breath, but I just kept smiling. Five hours later, the group was narrowed down to seven. I’d made it to the end. A casting director asked for my contact information.

Six months later, I still hadn’t received a phone call. My dream of getting a job in Walt Disney World was crushed, once again. I told myself I would try again the next chance I got. It was the same never-ending cycle of excitement and disappointment with every Disney audition I went to – seven, to be exact.

One girl sat in the corner crying after she was cut. Black tears running down her face onto her bright red lips as she changed into her street shoes and packed her bag to leave. She drove four hours to an audition in which she didn’t last more than five minutes. At that audition, I learned not to wear makeup – the casting directors don’t like it.

A few other girls were asked to leave because they were just above or below the height requirement for the part the casting director was looking for. “Please check the audition requirements next time,” she said as they walked out.

Cassidy Tompkins, a former Disney princess, auditioned for Disney 12 times before she was hired.

Abby Peters auditioned eight times and was never hired.

Alyssa Stroner auditioned just one time before getting her part.

“I was part of the very lucky, extremely humbled few,” Stroner said.

Peter O’Neal auditioned for Disney entertainment for a period of six years – after his interactions with cast members during a trip to Disney World inspired him to do so.

“I would do whatever it took to perform at Disney, so I could spread the magic that had been given to me,” he said.

The Audition Process

Being a Disney princess is not all about tiaras and corsets – at least not as first. During the audition process, a casting director could cut you based on how far apart your eyes are, or how big your nose is. If you’re an inch too short or tall of the range set for each princess, you’re out. But, if the casting directors like you, they can measure you down or up to your “Disney height,” as they call it. I’m 5’8,” but my Disney height was 5’7” because they thought I looked the part.

Disney’s casting directors are looking to fit a specific look for each princess and each character. The audition listings on the website say exactly what they’re looking for. For example, the listing to be Anna from Frozen says,“5’3″ – 5’7″, type cast. Elsa’s younger sister, and Princess of Arendelle; quirky and a bit awkward at times, fun spirited with great comedic timing and outgoing personality. Non-singing role.”

The audition requirements don’t stop there. Before you have a chance to show your personality through acting and dance steps, the casting directors line everyone up and cut the majority of the group solely based on looks.

“The casting crew stares at every individual for a few seconds to identify if their physique and basic facial structure matches the criteria. It is a very awkward process, but it is painless,” Peters said. “Despite the casting crew’s many attempts to convince you to ‘just enjoy yourself’ and to not worry about your audience, the whole processes is very intimidating.”

At least they play fun Disney music in the background.

Tompkins first auditioned for Disney entertainment in 2010 for “Beauty and the Beast,” a Broadway-type of show where she’d need to be able to sing, dance and act.

“The casting director told me I would never be a Belle because I didn’t have the right look, which was hilarious to me when I did get cast as Belle in 2015 by that same casting director,” she said.

Once the casting crew has looked everyone over and made cuts, the remaining dancers are taught a dance routine. For Walt Disney World princess auditions, this is usually a simple grapevine or three-step-turn dance with a curtsy or two. When I auditioned for Hong Kong Disneyland, we learned a more complicated number.

“You’re a Cindy”

At the end of the audition, directors choose a few women to have the “Disney Princess experience,” as I like to call it. “Very few females make it to the final round, when they are weighed, measured, and dolled up to look like a selected princess,” Peters said.

At the end of my first audition, the casting director lined up our group of 10 girls. She pointed at me and said, “You’re a Cindy.” Speechless, I stepped out of line and followed her. She led me to a room where a stylist was waiting, and within a few minutes, I had on a blonde wig, blue eye shadow, and light pink gloss on my lips. I looked like Cinderella. It was surreal.

Then, the casting director took my photo and said I could potentially get a phone call from Disney within six months. From there, it was a waiting game.

When asked about their perspective and comments on the audition process, Disney did not respond to my inquiries.

The Training Process

Once hired, Tompkins said she went through a training process where she learned how to do meet-and-greets with guests as both a princess and a “fur character.” The meet-and-greet structure was very specific: greet the guest, have a conversation and send them off – all within about 70 seconds. All princesses – known as “face characters” – must also be trained in fur costumes, where their faces are not seen. For Tompkins, that meant she had to train as Pluto, Eeyore and Elastigirl from The Incredibles.

Face characters must verbally respond to whatever guests may say, and because so they earn an extra $2.50 per hour. This can be rough. Tompkins said that one time when she was playing Ariel, a young child told her, “Ariel can you take my brother away because I think he just wiped a booger on your dress.”

Fur characters cannot talk, but still must still have a non-verbal conversation with the guest. One of Tompkins’ fur character roles was as Pluto.

“If someone had a birthday pin on I’d try to tap dance what sounded like happy birthday and move my hands like a conductor to get everyone to sing after pointing to the button,” Tompkins said.

Stroner said her training lasted four days. She learned to walk, talk and act like Princess Jasmine from Walt Disney’s Aladdin.

O’Neal said the meet-and-greet experience was a thrill for him as a fur character. He couldn’t talk, but his actions made up for it.

“There’s no way you can’t smile when a fun friend gives you a big hug,” he said.

Disney also requires all face and fur characters to go by their character name. Even if other cast members or friends know who the person is under the costume, guests do not.

“In Disney lingo, it is common for people to ask entertainment cast members what characters they perform, and instead of putting it that way – possibly ruining the magic for overhearing guests – we refer to the characters we perform as ‘our friends,’” Stroner said. “For example, someone might ask, ‘Who are you friends with?’”

When I visited Disney World in August, Stroner was holding meet-and-greets as Jasmine in Epcot. While I know her as my friend, Alyssa, I had to call her Jasmine in order to not ruin the magic for the other guests around me – especially younger ones. When posting photos of us on social media, I couldn’t mention her real name – I had to call her my friend, Jasmine.

In order to keep the magic alive for all guests, Disney has put  in place rules to keep things consistent. If two Mickey Mouses were to cross paths, children would start to question which one is the “real” Mickey. The magic would be lost. In a similar way, each princess must have a similar look, just like how every Radio City Rockette must be the same height. Because of Disney’s standards, only a select few of all the women and men who audition make it as a cast member.

On my way home from my audition, I called my parents out of sheer excitement. I had to tell someone. Even while stuck in the miserable downtown Orlando traffic, I sang Disney tunes at the top of my lungs. I rolled my windows down and serenaded the cars beside me. I didn’t care – I felt like I was on top of the world. I don’t know if I was missing the right look or if they lost my resume, but I never got my callback.

The audition process gave me an inside look, not only to how Disney entertainment works, but also the entertainment industry as a whole, which I wouldn’t have gotten to experience otherwise.

It has been three years since that day, and my mom still calls me Cindy.

Edited by Paige Connelly

‘All I have to do is give it everything I’ve got’

Jay Arrington's life has not been easy, but, through perseverance and support, he now plays college lacrosse.
Jay Arrington’s life has not been easy. Through perseverance and support, he now plays lacrosse at St. Andrews University.

By Lauren Tarpley

“I make sure I’m grateful for every opportunity I get. If I could go back one year and give myself advice, I would say be appreciative.”

A lot can change in one year. One year ago, Jahdi’El “Jay” Arrington, 20, was living in Chapel Hill. Jay was reluctantly attending Durham Technical Community College, and he already had a few run-ins with law enforcement. Today, Arrington is attending St. Andrews University in Laurinburg, NC, on a scholarship doing what he his most passionate about, lacrosse.

Life changing opportunities do not happen by chance. These opportunities are born out of struggle, hardship and dedication. Arrington is a prime example of how one’s life can completely change with some ambition and support.

Originally from Ohio, Arrington moved to Chapel Hill while in middle school. A lack of stability had a negative impact on Arrington’s middle school career as multiple moves and switching schools led to poor grades. During this time he was enrolled in the mentor-partnership program Volunteers for Youth where he met his mentor, Eric Perry.

“I figured I needed to do something to give back a little, but as far as getting Jay—it was just the universe doing me a solid favor,” Perry said. “He’s had his struggles, but he has a wonderful heart and he was just the perfect kid for me to mentor.”

Arrington was 12 years old at the time and eight years later Perry continues to support and advise him.

“I’m not sure what it was that caused fate to sign on to it or how it worked, but the universe just lined everything up perfect. I fell in love the first time I met him. He was just a sweet little guy and that part of him never changed and never will,” Perry said.

Struggle to success

Perry helped Arrington work through tough situations in his youth such as transitioning schools, sometimes ending up in worse districts.

“He wasn’t with the same kids or teachers, and it was really hard for him,” Perry said. “He’s a get-along guy, but in this process, he was getting left behind in school.”

As Arrington got older, Perry remained by his side through good times and bad times. Arrington eventually graduated from East Chapel Hill High School and enrolled in Durham Technical Community College. While Arrington was hard-working and ambitious, he still had his faults. He would eventually be charged with a DUI, amongst other minor encounters with the law. Instead of falling victim to these hardships, Arrington used them as an opportunity to learn and grow from his mistakes.

“My struggles have helped me open my eyes to real-life situations. The obstacles that are in my way will be hard to deal with and will continue to challenge me, but all I have to do is give it everything I’ve got,” Arrington said.

Perry was a prominent figure through these difficult times, reminding Arrington that he is in control of his fate.

“He was twelve when we first started hanging out and he’s damn near a grown-ass-man now,” Perry said. “We all have some bumps along the way and if all is well at the end of the rail, we’ve learned something and have some grip on right and wrong.”

Thinking positive

Throughout their relationship, Perry has emphasized the importance of being proactive and positive in life, as our life reflects our thoughts.

“We kept talking about asking the universe for the next great thing,” Perry said.  “Don’t go through life asking what terrible thing will happen next, because the universe will answer with what you ask for. But, the exact opposite is also true. I believe if you look in the mirror and ask for great things, great things will happen.”

According to Perry, every time they spoke, Arrington would say three things he was grateful for. Then, in January, Arrington received a phone call congratulating him on his admittance to St. Andrews University on a lacrosse scholarship. Arrington now had the opportunity to get an education at a four-year institution while playing the sports he is most passionate about—just one more thing to be grateful for.

“It’s been gratifying knowing he was able to make a connection between the change in his attitude and this amazing opportunity,” Perry said. “I’m proud of him. Super proud of him.”

A bigger issue at hand

While Arrington’s hardships were temporary obstacles on his path to success, these struggles often hinder young black Americans trying to succeed.

Black Americans are highly represented within the United States’ criminal justice system. According to The Sentencing Project , 32 percent of blacks males between the ages of 20 to 29 are under some form of criminal justice supervision– whether that be prison, probation, or parole. While white males born in 1991 have a four percent chance of spending time in prison, their black counterparts have a 29 percent chance of going to prison at some point during their lives, according to The Sentencing Project.

An article published on reported on a Rhode Island study that found black drivers were more likely to be stopped than white drivers despite the fact that they are less likely to receive a citation. Furthermore, black Americans were three times as likely to have their cars searched and were less likely to have a reason for being stopped. Let’s take a moment to let that sink in.

Perry has emphasized the importance of being aware of the current racial tensions in our society, stating the alternatives to cooperation can be frightening for black Americans.

“If you’re young and black, it’s open season on you. So, you have to be super aware of that in a way that I wouldn’t have to. It’s unfair, but that is what’s going on,” Perry said.

These racial issues, on a larger scale, might be hard to relate to. But ,when these issues happen on a local level and effect loved ones, the reality becomes clear. Perry believes voting and movements such as Black Live Matters bring awareness to these issues and offer people a way to be proactive.

“If you want to change injustice in the system, and it’s loaded with it, you can’t change the system without being active,” Perry said. “That’s a simply fact,”

Jahdi’El Arrington – student athlete

Currently, Arrington is majoring in communications. He will be red-shirting as a midfielder on the men’s lacrosse team at St. Andrews.

“Now that I am in school, doing what I love and getting an education, I feel like I can start achieving more in life since I am learning so much as I go through this process,” Arrington said.

Edited by Luke Bollinger

Saving Northside, the largest black community in Chapel Hill

A new house under construction in Northside neighborhood. A loan from UNC-CH has allowed the Jackson Center to purchase properties to sell at an affordable rate in an attempt to raise the neighborhood's black population. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
A new house under construction in Northside neighborhood. A loan from UNC-CH has allowed the Jackson Center to purchase properties to sell at an affordable rate in an attempt to raise the neighborhood’s black population. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

By Sofie DeWulf

Eugene Farrar is one of the originals. He’s lived in Northside for years, so he’s personally witnessed how the neighborhood has transformed; and like other long-term residents, he’s got something to say about it.

In 2010, he was interviewed for an exhibit featured in the community called “Facing Our Neighbors.”

“Right now, I see a lot of work to be done,” Farrar said. “You know, African-Americans dominated this town, but now you’re pushing African-Americans out because you don’t think that they can pay the taxes or they don’t have the revenue to support the town. So, you bring people in to live in these houses, to build 3,4,5, $600,000 homes, which, you know, the average person that was born and raised in Chapel Hill cannot afford that.”

Historically, Northside neighborhood has been the largest black community in Chapel Hill. Eugene Farrar is one of hundreds of African-Americans who have called Northside home for decades.

Many resident’s families have lived in Northside for generations. These natives cherish the history of the neighborhood and the tight-knit community that developed from a network of long-term family residents.

This community dynamic, however, began to change before the turn of the 21st century. The major reason for this change? College students.

Because of a growing interest from college students to live in Northside, the African-American population in the neighborhood has declined significantly in the last 30 years. According to the U.S. census, there were 1,159 black residents in the neighborhood in 1980, but by 2010, there were only 690.

Because of these changes, Northside residents are worrying about the future of the neighborhood. Many residents, like Farrar, believe that the increase of rental properties and the subsequent rise in housing prices are forcing low-income, predominately African-American residents out of Northside.

There is a fear that this threatens the close feel of the neighborhood and the appreciation of its history. Recent initiatives such as the Northside Neighborhood Initiative and organizations like the Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, are helping the community to address these concerns.

Neighborhood Pride

The Northside neighborhood encompasses the 188 acres of land enclosed by North Columbia Street to the east, the Carrboro city limit to the west, the Tanyard Branch trail to the north and West Rosemary Street to the south.

While it may be a clearly established neighborhood now, Northside began rather haphazardly as a labor settlement that served UNC-Chapel Hill in its beginnings.

“There would not be a university if not for the blacks in this community,” says Kathy Atwater, a long-time resident of Northside. “The university was built on the backs of slaves. My grandfather worked for the university, and he would carry water from the Old Well to the dorms for the students.”

In addition to performing tasks like this, Northside residents helped to build the stone walls that surround the university today.

Fast forward about 170 years to the 1950s and you find the largest black community in Chapel Hill, running from what is now the McDonalds on Franklin to the Wings Over on Rosemary. At this time, The Midway, the district connecting Chapel Hill and Carrboro, was full of black-owned businesses, from Bill’s Barbeque — which is now Mama Dip’s — to Mason’s Grocery and a pool hall nearby.

Northside remained united in the face of racism and discrimination. Many residents became freedom fighters in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in sit-ins, marches and demonstrations in Chapel Hill. Church Street was the unofficial divider of the white and black areas of the neighborhood, becoming a marker of the segregation within the community.

While the coexistence of white and black within Northside was relatively peaceful, the same could not be said beyond the boundaries of the neighborhood. Keith Edwards, another long-time resident of Northside, recalls being spit on and kicked during her time as a student at Chapel Hill Junior High.

Her walk home from school every day was filled with anxiety, but she says that her fear vanished as she got close to Northside.

“As long as you stayed in the perimeter of that neighborhood, you were safe from the outside world,” she said.

Edwards’ memories—the feelings of protection and safety and community from living in Northside—are echoed by other residents.

“Everybody was just family,” Atwater recalls of the Northside of the past. “We all looked after one another. Nobody was left to themselves. And I think that’s where most of the hurt comes from, from those who are still here. They remember how it used to be and how it felt like they had something.”

Graham Street in Northside Neighborhood.  Because of the affordable prices and close-to-campus location, Northside has attracted many students in the past few decades. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)
Graham Street in Northside Neighborhood. Because of its affordable prices and close-to-campus location, Northside has attracted caught the attention of many students in the past few decades. (photo by Sofie DeWulf)

Change Comes to Northside

The hurt that Atwater is referring to started roughly 30–40 years ago, when the gentrification of Northside began. It was about this time that students at UNC-CH started showing a greater interest in living in Northside.

Northside was close to the university, and houses in the neighborhood were relatively cheaper than in other areas surrounding campus. Developers began to notice the growth of students in the neighborhood and how these students could offer more money than existing residents in Northside.

Yvonne Cleveland, administrative associate at the Jackson Center and a member of the Northside community, said that resident’s houses are often sold after they pass away.

“Let’s say my grandmother owned the house, and she passed away,” Cleveland said.  “I have no interest in living in the Northside community, so if someone offered me $200,000, I’d probably say ‘Yes, I’ll take it.'”

Another major reason residents move out is because they can’t afford to live in the neighborhood anymore, largely because of increased property taxes. In either situation, developers will buy the house, rebuild and expand it, and convert it into a rental property to cater to college students.

“Instead of renting one house for $600, you’re renting one room for $600, and within that house you have five rooms,” Cleveland says. “Basically, you’re quadrupling your profit.”

According to the decennial census, investor-owned properties in Northside neighborhood have increased significantly since 2000; and with the increase in investor-owned properties comes a change in demographics.

From 1980-2010, the population of 18 to 24-year-olds increased from 23.4 percent to 55.7 percent, while family households dropped from 48.2 percent to 22.9 percent. The number of owner-occupied houses also decreased significantly. The large majority of the family households living in these owner-occupied houses are long-term, African-American residents of Northside.

Lifting Voices

The long-term residents of Northside became concerned with these changes. How will the community restore homeownership and family rental housing in the neighborhood? How can student neighbors learn to appreciate the history of Northside? How will the neighborhood maintain its diversity in age, income and race? How can the tight-knit feeling that used to pervade Northside be restored?

There was a real need for long-term residents to voice their concerns and have them addressed. The town of Chapel Hill responded with the Northside Neighborhood Conservation District Plan, one of the first initiatives adopted by the town on Feb. 23, 2004. This plan established regulations to “help preserve the character of a particular, older residential neighborhood.”

The real change, though, started happening in 2008, with the establishment of The Marian Cheek Jackson Center for Saving and Making History, a nonprofit located on Rosemary Street at the city limit of Carrboro.

The Jackson Center started as an initiative to preserve the history of Northside by creating an oral archive of interviews with long-term Northside residents, but soon expanded its mission to work to sustaining and strengthening the community.

“What we want to do is hear what our neighbors want,” says Della Pollock, the executive director of the Jackson Center.

Since it began, the Jackson Center has been behind several initiatives to aid Northside, teaming up with a number of partners, including UNC-Chapel Hill, Self-Help, the Town of Chapel Hill and EmPOWERment Inc.

These initiatives consist of the Northside and Pine Knolls Community Plan, adopted in January 2012; the Northside Housing Market Action Plan, developed in 2013; and, most recently, the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, announced on March 9, 2015.

The Northside Neighborhood Initiative, according to Hudson Vaughan, senior director of the Jackson Center, is meant to “ensure the diversity and legacy of Northside and preserve its future.”

This has been accomplished through efforts to engage with the students living in the neighborhood. Student residents are encouraged to connect with their neighbors through events like “Cocoa on the Porch” or “Lookout for the Cookout.”

They can also learn about the history of the neighborhood by listening to the Northside soundwalk, “Histories of Home,” created by the Jackson Center.

Jake Pachecho, a student at UNC and volunteer at the Jackson Center, finds the soundwalk to be a huge benefit to student residents.

“Knowing the history of Northside can instill a respect that will stay with students who see Northside as simply a place for them to stay,” he said.

Students have also been educated about neighborhood ordinances, which has helped reduce the nuisance complaints in Northside by 60 percent since the Northside Neighborhood Initiative was announced. The ultimate desire of long-term residents is to build an understanding with student residents.

“They’re not opposed to students,” Cleveland said. “They just want them to have respect for the community and its history.”

Northside has seen other big changes since the Northside Neighborhood Initiative was announced.

UNC-CH gave a $3 million no-interest loan to the initiative, which has allowed the Jackson Center and its partners to purchase 16 properties in Northside and sell at an affordable rate. This is a big step in restoring homeownership and family-rental housing in the neighborhood.

An Uncertain Future  

Currently, a stone gateway is being built in front of St. Joseph Christian Methodist Episcopal Church beside the Jackson Center. The gateway is meant to honor the freedom fighters of Northside and be a marker for the neighborhood. It comes at a turning point in the community.

Because of recent efforts from the Northside Neighborhood Initiative, the African-American population in Northside has increased for the first time in 30 years.

George Barrett, the associate director of the Jackson Center, looks to the completion of the gateway and the achievements of the community with excitement. The gateway is an inspiration for the future, but it also acts as a reminder of the struggles blacks in the community continue to face today.

“There’s still work to do,” he says, echoing the same words of Eugene Farrar seven years ago.

Edited by Molly Weybright

A look into ‘America’s Lawyer’, Mike Papantonio

Lanie Phillips

On Saturday, Feb. 13, 2017, lead Litigation Attorney Mike Papantonio received the call that E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company, commonly referred to as DuPont, and The Chemours Company reached a settlement of $670.7 million that will be paid out to approximately 3,500 clients.

For decades, DuPont was intentionally dumping C8, a cancer-causing chemical used in Teflon non-stick pans, into the Ohio River, which exposed entire communities to the toxic chemical, causing long-term health effects on residents. Over the past few years, attorneys have reached individual case verdicts, but this settlement will payout thousands of clients and ultimately bring the case to a close.

“The jury determined that, not only was DuPont at fault, but that they were guilty of actual malice in the way they covered up the evidence of their conduct,” said Papantonio.

For Papantonio, this news was the culmination of tens of thousands of hours of work researching, preparing and litigating this case. Papantonio led the team that originally exposed the dangers of the C8 chemical, exposed the internal secret documents DuPont was hiding and revealed the problem to the EPA. Since then, his team has forced DuPont to set up safety guidelines, including a medical monitoring program, to ultimately stop producing and using C8. In addition to the settlement, Papantonio and his team tried the only three C8 trials against DuPont and won multi-million dollar verdicts.

Meeting Mike 

To say I was intimidated by meeting Mike Papantonio is an understatement. It was in Laguardia Airport and I was joining his firm for a gala they were a part of. His presence filled the room the minute he walked through the door and when he spoke, the crowd quickly fell silent.  What followed surprised everyone.

“I’ve heard you’re good with a tambourine, Lanie!” he said. The crowd broke out in a chuckle and the ice was broken. Since then, Mike Papantonio has grown into the mentor I never dreamed I would be lucky enough to have.


After attending undergraduate school at the University of Florida and receiving his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law, Mike Papantonio, referred to by friends and colleagues as “Pap,” has gone on to create a name for himself as “America’s Lawyer.” In addition to his most recent victory, Papantonio has handled thousands of cases, including the Asbestos and the Florida Tobacco Litigation trials. He has received several multi-million dollar verdicts on behalf of his clients, the victims. Papantonio is a member of the National Trial Lawyers Association and was recently inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame.

If you search for “Mike Papantonio,” you get thousands of results. He is regarded as one of the most talented attorneys of his time and has the reputation to back it up. He is listed in the publications Best Lawyers in America and Leading American Attorney, hosts a biannual conference for trial lawyers and is currently on multiple best-seller lists for his latest book, Law and Disorder. He could – and did – write a book with all of his accomplishments, but the goal of this article is to give a glimpse of the man behind the suit.

Community influencer 

In Gulf Breeze, a small town right outside of Pensacola, Florida, Mike Papantonio is a local celebrity. However, this recognition is not simply for his incredible skills and victories in the courthouse; it’s his contagious personality and unending generosity to the community that allow him to maintain this status. Michael Mann, a resident of Gulf Breeze and a family friend, vouched for this sentiment.

“Pap has donated to pretty much every cause this town takes on,” he said. “He also was the driving force behind me going to law school. Gulf Breeze is lucky to have his influence.” Mann went on to explain how even with his busy schedule, Papantonio is always available for a quick phone call to talk through career options or run through a practice trial for the Trial Team at the law school he is attending.

Work life

After graduating from the University of Florida, Papantonio planned on being a journalist or foreign correspondent. By chance, he interviewed one of the most well known trial lawyers in the country who convinced him to go to law school. After a few years as a prosecutor, Papantonio made the switch to trial law.

“I specifically chose trial law because I couldn’t stomach the idea of helping these corporations get away with the crimes they are committing,” said Papantonio. This mentality has driven his career since the beginning.

Connie Pearson, a lead paralegal at Levin Papantonio Law Firm has worked with Papantonio on several historic cases throughout his career and has only positive things to say about her experiences.

“Pap is one of the most hardworking people I know,” she said. “He never loses sight of the justice he is trying to achieve for our clients and makes it easy for me to come to work each day.”

This sentiment carries throughout the office. As an employee, I wholeheartedly agree that Papantonio makes it easy to enjoy your job. There is an obvious sentiment of teamwork that drives the tone of the office. Whether it was group lunches to celebrate an email found by the attorney leading the case or wrapping up the client calls necessary to head to court, the sense of family in the firm is undeniable.

“We stick together,” said Pearson. “We’re at constant war with teams of corporate lawyers, so we have to stand firm in what we believe in and not allow our clients to be bullied.”

When asked what he was most proud of, Papantonio didn’t rattle off a list of cases or show me a trophy he had received. Instead, he chose his only daughter, Sara. “I think one benefit to being a trial lawyer is that it always keeps things in perspective,” he said. “The people in my life are so much more important than anything this job has given me.” The two have a close relationship and talk often. Sara understands the impact of the work her dad has done and hopes to follow in his footsteps.

“My dad has instilled in me the importance of doing the right thing for the right reasons, instead of what will make the most money,” said his daughter. “He’s shown me that if you’re a good person, the rest will follow.”

Family man

This past summer, I lived with the Papantonio’s while working for his firm and got to experience firsthand what it’s like to be in his constant presence. Throughout the internship, I was not only an employee, but Mike and his wife, Terri, along with their daughter, Sara, took me in as another family member. I was included in dinner outings, day trips and information that would not hit the press for days.

“Different people fill different spaces in your life,” said Terri, “I’m glad that we can fill one for you”. This sentiment perfectly embodies what the family stands for.

I consider myself incredibly lucky to have studied under an attorney who practices at the caliber that Mike Papantonio does. After living under the same roof, I think I have begun to understand what makes him tick and why he has taken the road to get where he is today.

It seems as if Papantonio excels at every aspect of life. In addition to being an incredibly accomplished attorney, his home life is nothing short of amazing. Terri Papantonio often spoke to me about what it’s like to be the wife of such a high-powered attorney.

“He’s not ‘America’s Lawyer’ with me,” she said. “We decided at the very beginning of our marriage that he would leave that in the courtroom.”

Over the past 20 years, the couple has traveled to all seven continents, regularly taking outlandish adventures.

Looking ahead

I think Mike Papantonio will remain “America’s Lawyer” as long as he can. He has no plans to retire and although he works from home far more now, he is quick to lend guidance to any team fighting against corporate criminals.

“Dad’s going to hold on until I can get through law school,” said Sara. “We both want to make sure that I am prepared to continue his legacy and maybe even try a case together before he officially retires.”

Edited by Avery Williams

Pain and resilience: A refugee’s journey to North Carolina

By Luke Bollinger

Zubair Rushk is not the typical student at UNC-Chapel Hill. He’s not a typical U.S. citizen. Zubair is from Syria, but he fled the country to escape persecution from the Bashar al-Assad regime. His body is a representation of the experiences of his early life. He walks with a limp from a childhood disease. His glasses sit crooked on his nose, a result of it having been broken multiple times. At times he flashes back to traumatic events, something no amount of therapy can fully mitigate.

Zubair was resettled in Durham in 2010. Since then, he has built a good life for himself. Zubair considers himself lucky to have landed in Durham, as the Triangle has proven to be a welcoming and accommodating place for refugees with numerous organizations devoted to easing the transition and creating fulfilling lives for them. Despite all the good Zubair has found while living in Durham, the events that led to his resettlement are something he carries with him every day. It is part of who he is. Those traumatic times are what make him unique. His journey to Durham holds parallels to the journeys of many refugees. It’s a journey of pain and resilience.


As a child and young adult, Zubair was a troublemaker, but not in the way one might think of a typical rebellious child growing up in the U.S. He was a troublemaker because he refused to let his pride in his culture be suppressed. Zubair is a Kurd, a minority within the Syrian population. The laws of Syria prohibit students from speaking Kurdish in school, on the streets and even in their own homes.

Zubair never understood why he must disassociate himself from his cultural identity, so he decided he would speak Kurdish in school. He described this act of defiance as if it were kids passing notes to each other or shooting spitballs across the classroom, hoping the teacher didn’t notice and getting a sense of glee when they weren’t caught. But he did get caught. The teacher heard him and called the police. Zubair went to prison.

It was only two days, and he wasn’t harmed. It was only meant to scare him. It would be nine years until Zubair found out what prison was really like.

At the age of 23, Zubair was operating a Kurdish school in a spare room of his home. He taught around 40 students, mostly children and teenagers. He used Kurdish books on history, language and culture to teach them. Just owning these books was a crime in itself.

In his eagerness to share his knowledge, he allowed two men he did not know to enter his home. The men claimed they lived in the neighborhood and wanted their children to attend his school. Zubair showed them the room where he held class and the books he used to teach. He realized his blunder before it was too late. And when he did, he tried to leave his home, hoping escaping the house could save him. But a car was already waiting outside. He was put in the car and escorted to prison for questioning.

For the next 72 hours, Zubair was beaten and tortured, and not a single question was asked. He was then asked to sign a document stating that he had been found with a gun in his home and was participating in the Kurdish rebellion, which had sprung the day before he was taken to prison. He refused. His captors then continued to beat the resolution out of him. They succeeded after three hours. Zubair said he later felt shame for giving in and signing the document after three days when he heard that one of his friends withstood the same treatment for eleven days.

He received a seven-month sentence for his crimes, and they would be the worst seven months of his life. It was during these months that Zubair would come to fully understand the meaning of pain. There seemed to be no end to the torture and beatings.

Zubair was not silent during his time in prison. He defied authority in the only ways he could. He screamed. He cursed the guards. He cursed the government that restricted his freedom and suppressed his identity. And he did not go unnoticed.

Two weeks before he was released, Zubair’s resolution would undergo its greatest test. The prison administration knew he would be a problem once he was released. His defiance had been all too evident. They sent him to the ‘Dark Room,’ which consisted of a single chair. Zubair was strapped to the chair, and his head was placed in a brace. He couldn’t move an inch in any direction.

The guards left, and he was alone. He had been in solitary confinement before. He was optimistic – scared, but optimistic. He had been in this type of situation before. Then he felt a drop of water hit his head, then another and another.

Zubair remained hopeful. He thought he would get a shower. The water dripped through his hair, down his unwashed body and to his toes. However, after 30 minutes, each drop of water seemed to weigh 10 pounds heavier.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

His body began to shake and go numb. He lost his vision, hearing and ability to speak. More tragically, Zubair lost his memory, as if the small drops of water had hammered out all the most important functions of his brain.

Once Zubair was released from prison, it would take him three months to learn to speak without a stutter. It would take him years to recover his full memory.

After his release, Zubair received a notice in the mail of pending legal charges for his defiance. The family lawyer told Zubair his best option was to leave the country. So he was smuggled to Lebanon.

The money paid to the smugglers was guaranteed to provide Zubair a donkey at the border, a more desirable mode of travel compared with walking, as he had been diagnosed with polio at the age of two and has always felt the effects when he walks. Once his family paid the smugglers at the border and drove away, the smugglers removed Zubair from the donkey and pointed him toward a mountain. A mountain he would need to climb in order to cross the border. So he climbed, on his hands and feet, until he conquered the mountain.

Zubair would remain in Lebanon for five years. During that time, he worked as a self-employed electronic engineer to help his brother pay the bills. Zubair went to physical and psychological rehabilitation for the first three years of his stay, a service provided by the U.N., which Zubair had applied to for refugee status. After five years of escaping Syria, Zubair found out he would be resettled in Durham, North Carolina.


Arriving in Durham was the greatest blessing of Zubair’s life. The resettlement agency found him a small apartment consisting of three pieces of furniture. The agency gave him enough money for groceries and a month’s rent and told him they would help him find a job. Instead of waiting for the agency to finish the job search, he took the initiative to find a job himself.

He traveled to The Streets at Southpoint mall every day and visited as many restaurants as possible, asking if they were hiring. He spoke very little English, but he knew enough to inquire about jobs. On the twelfth day of his search, the manager at The Cheesecake Factory agreed to hire him. He did not know how to fill out the job application, so the manager, Jeff, helped him fill it out.

Zubair is grateful for Jeff to this day. Grateful that someone would hire him despite the fact that he spoke little to no English and couldn’t even fill out the job application on his own. Zubair said because of the welcoming and accommodating Triangle community, the area quickly began to feel like home.


Zubair is not an anomaly. The Triangle has proven to be a sanctuary for many refugees.

Scott Phillips, director of the North Carolina branch of the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, said his organization is the first point of contact for many refugees who come to the Raleigh area. Phillips said the organization finds affordable housing for refugees, provides them with three months’ rent and helps about 90 percent of refugee families become financially self-sufficient within the first 120 days.

“In the area, we’ve really seen, and our clients have seen, really friendly people here who are willing to take the extra step to work with refugees,” he said.

Phillips recalled a phone call he received during the holidays. The call came from an employer who had hired a refugee who had been resettled through Phillips’ agency. He told Phillips he was hosting a holiday party for his employees and he was not sure of the religion of the one refugee worker. He was wondering if there was anything he could do to make the employee feel more included in the festivities.

“That is amazing,” Phillips said. “That’s so great. He didn’t have to do that. That’s the guy who stocks the shelves. They didn’t have to take that extra step, but they did.”

Still, refugees in the community consume media like everyone else. Despite the warm welcome most refugees receive in the Triangle, many are still fearful of their place in the country. Phillips said he has heard the concerns of many refugees regarding the rhetoric toward them in the past presidential election and recent executive orders.

“There’s a lot of fear after the initial executive order on refugees,” he said. “Then you turn around and see 1,500 people at RDU and people at the rally the next week. That was a concrete example of North Carolina spirit and American values. That resonated with our clients a lot.”

Zubair has also noticed the contrast between what is said in the media and how people actually treat him and other refugees. He said despite the country being deeply divided on views towards refugees, false perceptions can’t diminish what he calls “this heaven I’m living in.”

And for Zubair, it is heaven indeed. He became a U.S. citizen in 2015, he works hard at multiple jobs and he’s on his way to completing his degree in peace, war and defense.

Zubair and his wife, Etena, were married in October 2016 after she completed the vetting and resettlement process and joined him in the U.S.

Perhaps one of the biggest moments of Zubair’s time in Durham was when his wife joined him. With the help of U.S. Rep. David Price, his wife wasable to complete the vetting and resettlement process in two years, a short timespan compared to the lengthy process many refugees must go through. Zubair and Etena, his wife, were married in October 2016 and are hoping to start a family soon.

Edited by Matt Wotus

How one boy’s tragic story inspired an entire police department

By Audrey Wells

Jacob was in his room upstairs when he heard arguing erupt outside. It was immediately followed by the sound of his mother screaming. Soon after, he heard gunshots and ran downstairs to his parent’s room to see what was happening. His parents were lying on the ground in a pool of blood with their next-door neighbor standing over them gripping a gun. Jacob ran back to his room, grabbed an old cellphone, turned it on and dialed 9-1-1. He came down the stairs into the hallway as he saw his neighbor shoot again and turn his gun towards the house. Jacob stayed on the line with the dispatch officer as patrolmen rushed to the scene.

It was approaching 6 p.m. as senior police officer Carl Grecko was finishing his day at the South Asheville Resource Center. He was chatting with Andrew Barker, a new officer who had been on his own for about three weeks. Barker was just starting his shift when the shots-fired call came in on the radio. Dispatch called Barker to the scene, and Grecko joined Barker on the call. In the short drive, the call was continuously updated until the officers came upon the suspect: a man in a dark green shirt, overalls and a tan hat. Both officers exited their vehicles with their weapons drawn and pointed them at the shooter, who was still standing over the bodies.

“Get your hands up!” Grecko yelled. “I said put them up! Higher!”

“All right! All right,” the suspect replied.

The officers ordered him to step away from the bodies, and lay face-down on his stomach so Barker could handcuff him.

“Where’s the gun?” Grecko demanded.

“Over there, in that direction.”

Still watching the suspect, Barker began to secure the scene, starting with the gun, while Grecko called for back-up. Grecko knelt down next to the victims, who had both been shot multiple times. Placing his hands on their shoulders, he said help is on the way, and asked them to hold on.

The call was updated again. There was a child in the house, and he had seen everything. By this time, the fire department and EMS had arrived on-scene. Barker stayed with the victims and the suspect, and Grecko went in the house to speak with the eyewitness.

“Are they okay?” Jacob asked. “Are mom and dad going to be okay?”

“I don’t know if they’re going to be okay, but we have help here and we’re going to do everything we can to try and help them,” Grecko replied. The neighbor had always been trouble, Jacob told the officer. His parents had constant arguments with him.

It was difficult for Grecko to comfort him. He wanted to keep Jacob’s focus away from what was happening, but it had been years since Grecko was around young children. As more people arrived on the scene, the officer asked what Jacob’s name was and about his birthday. Eventually, more officers entered the house with a chaplain, who relieved Grecko. By this time, the suspect had been taken away by another officer, and Grecko and Barker remained to recount their story to the commanding officers.

In September 2013, Jacob’s parents were killed after a long civil dispute lasting at least three years, according to neighbors. Jacob, who has asked to remain anonymous, was only 12-years-old at the time and this crime left him without a family. Many officers in the Asheville Police Department were touched by Jacob and his story, and were motivated into action in the days and weeks following the shooting.

Initial Interview

Jacob’s foster family led him into APD the day after he witnessed his parents’ death.  He was taken to an interview room, where Sgt. Charles Wells and Detective Kevin Taylor waited to ask him about what had transpired.

“It was kind of scary to me. I’d never been questioned by law enforcement or anything like that,” Jacob said.

Though it was a nerve-wracking experience for him, Jacob recounted what he had seen because he understood the officers had a job to do. Throughout the interview, Taylor noticed immediately that Jacob was a unique young man.

“He had this sense of memory recollection,” Taylor said. “He was able to tell us prior incidents where his parents and the neighbor got into confrontations and he could give us specific dates and years when these confrontations occurred.”

Taylor said it is common for people to remember events like these, but not many could recall a specific date for each incident, especially as a 12-year-old.

Jacob continued with what he considered pertinent information. He told the detectives his family had lived in the house for four years and that it had recently been repossessed, but they were somehow able to keep living there.

Wells also noticed something special about Jacob. He was highly intelligent and very articulate for his age, expressing concern about upcoming bills and other household maintenance issues.

“He immediately struck me as being mature way beyond his years,” Wells said. “It was almost like he was the parent of his parents.”

Jacob knew bank account numbers, when bills were due and other household functions that Wells said were astounding for a 12-year old to know. Many officers began to wonder if Jacob had been forced to grow up too fast.

Throughout the rest interview, Taylor said Jacob was very respectful and provided clear and concise information, but he was very concerned about the whereabouts of his parents’ killer.

“[Jacob] wanted to know is he in the room next door to me, is he in jail yet, is he going to see me? He was clearly fearful of his neighbor causing harm to him as well,” Taylor said.

The detectives tried to ease his concerns as they finished their questions, and offered their condolences at the interview’s conclusion. As Jacob left the department, some of the officers were moved to action on his behalf.

‘We had to do something’

As the investigation continued, detectives learned more about the life Jacob had been living before this incident. His home had been in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, surrounded by nice houses and landscaped yards, but the inside of his home didn’t match the exterior. Inside, the home was dirty and cluttered, and didn’t appear to have running water. Trash bags lined the toilets and leftover food filled the kitchen.

“We learned more about his upbringing, his home environment, and he never really had a childhood that you would expect a 12-year-old to have,” Taylor said.  “After we interviewed him and found out more about him, we knew we had to do something.”

Wells started by reaching out to other agencies in the area, and other officers in the APD, including Detective Germaine Weaver. Weaver is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, a fraternal organization of sworn law-enforcement officers. In 2013, he was a newly-elected second vice president for the Asheville branch of FOP. Wells asked if FOP would be able to help provide Jacob with necessities and Weaver took it to the board immediately.

“I called the board together and said ‘this is what the deal is: this kid has lost both of his parents.’ It didn’t take them long at all to say we’re not just going to help with necessities. We wanted to do something bigger for him,” Weaver said.

After a vote, the FOP board decided to donate $1,000 to helping Jacob.

“It started with communication, reaching out to people within the agencies and saying ‘can you guys help?’ And it kept growing. It was touching to see everybody’s generosity,” Wells said.

As donations continued to pour in, Target heard about the situation, and decided to match the FOP’s offer. Wells was touched by this generosity and began to plan a trip to Target with Jacob.

‘A Red Schwinn Bicycle’

Two or three weeks after Jacob’s interview at APD, he came back to the department and walked into a room filled with the donations and the officers who donated them.

“It was very considerate of everyone involved,” Jacob said. “Overall, it was pretty generous of the entire department to do that for me.”

Three officers accompanied him to Target and let him start shopping. He started with practical, smaller items because at the time he wasn’t sure where the funds were coming from, and didn’t want to take advantage of the officers’ kindness. The officers began to point Jacob towards what Weaver called “the fun stuff.” Eventually, Weaver said they were able to get him on a bike and Wells said it was an interesting experience.

“He picked out a bicycle and jumped on it,” Wells said. “He took off not knowing how to ride it, and tore a rack of stuff down at Target.”

Jacob said he was not good at riding a bike at that time. Generally, he could only ride for short distances because he wasn’t good at balancing, he said.

“I remember it was a red Schwinn bicycle,” Jacob said. “I remember thinking: I wonder if I’m going to be able to ride this bike.”

Throughout the rest of the trip, Jacob got some more fun items, including a PlayStation 3. It was really important to the officers that Jacob had the opportunity to be a kid.

 ‘We’d be there for him’

After Jacob received the donations from APD, the officers never saw him again. His parents’ killer was charged with the crime, and Jacob was placed in a home with his mother’s cousin. Though they never saw him again, many of the officers still think about Jacob and the effect he had on their lives.

“I’ve always wondered, occasionally, how he’s turned out since then,” Taylor said. “I hope he’s in a much better environment.”

Weaver remembers Jacob’s attitude and how he made it through such a traumatic situation.

“He was just a blessing. His whole attitude and demeanor about the whole situation just sticks out and its one of those things that makes you come back the next day and do a better job at work,” Weaver said.

Jacob is now 16-years-old, and still living with his mom’s cousin. He is dual-enrolled at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, and hopes to graduate from high school with an associate’s degree.

“I basically live the normal teenage life,” Jacob said.

If he saw the officers again, Jacob said he’d like to thank them for both their generosity and how they handled such a rare and unfortunate case.

Wells said anyone should be willing to help someone who is less fortunate than them. In this case, Jacob was a victim who didn’t ask to be put into that rough situation. Wells said he was happy to help Jacob in any way he could.

“Most of us do this job because we’re called to do it. We don’t do it for the paycheck, we do this because we want to help people,” Wells said. “This was just an opportunity for us to go a little bit further than the normal call for service.”

Edited by Travis Butler